Chasing Light: Forest reefs?

Clavaria purpurea
Looking much like ocean coral, this Clavaria purpurea grows on mossy, decomposing wood during wet summers.

Sometimes when I’m way in the woods, lost deep in a search for wild mushrooms I get the distinct feeling that I’m underwater, in a good way — especially when I find one of those decomposing logs or stumps completely covered by moss, lichen, seedlings and, in late summer, fungi.

This morning’s walk in the dense spruce and fir forests on the west side of the Tenmile Range near Frisco started under a drizzle, which is actually a great time to spot mushrooms because the moisture heightens the color of the caps. In full sun, the smaller fungi are hard to pick out in the bright spots on the forest floor. Even before I started walking, I noticed an old curled log in the road embankment with several species of mushrooms sprouting. When I got closer, I saw the delicate purple coral fungi, one of my all-time favorites because, well, they are just so darn freaky looking.

I spent about 20 minutes taking photos of different varieties of fungi growing on and near the stump, and realized that, in some ways, decomposing trees are the coral reefs of the forest, providing food and micro-habitats for many other species. It’s pretty clear, after taking a close look, that all these different species are interconnected and dependent on each other in ways we are only beginning to understand. But it’s a good ecology lesson to realize that the larger global ecosystem we humans are part of works the same way. And when you tear even a tiny part asunder, it affects the whole thing.


  1. […] I’m a cheapskate photographer so I have never owned a true macro lens, just some zooms with a “sort-of” macro capability, as well as a few compact digital cameras with a macro function, which is not the same as a true dedicated macro setup. It’s not a huge issue because I’m generally looking at larger landscapes. When I do look at things through the lens, it’s usually something as big as a mushroom. […]

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